New Haven will welcome two new members to its public safety team in the next 10 months. The first is a new chief of police. The second is a 40-foot long chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive maritime vessel, which will be housed in the Port of New Haven.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s ongoing search for a new police chief was center stage Wednesday night at the Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee meeting at City Hall, at which the committee also discussed the New Haven Fire Department’s application for federal funds to subsidize a new emergency response boat. City Hall Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said the pool of police chief candidates has been narrowed to fewer than seven candidates and that while DeStefano is expected to make a decision by the end of the month, it is unclear when the decision will be made public.
Smuts told the committee that the mayor’s office had combed through more than 50 applications for the position of police chief, which former Chief James Lewis left Friday after serving for 20 months. Smuts said DeStefano has narrowed down the pool with help from Richard Epstein, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, Lewis and representatives from the Police Executive Research Forum, a non-profit consulting agency that specializes in identifying qualified police administrators. The police think tank also helped in the city’s search for a new chief almost two years ago. Smuts said the interviewers are “very, very pleased” with the applicants that remain.
“The challenge now is not to figure out whether we have an applicant who would fit [in New Haven],” Smuts said, “But who would be absolutely the best fit.”
Smuts added that even though multiple people are involved in the interview process, the final decision rests with DeStefano. Both the original 50 applicants and the final handful are diverse groups and include some female, black and Hispanic individuals, Smuts said. But not one NHPD officer applied for the job, he said.
Ward 6 Alderwoman Delores Colón asked at the meeting what the lack of NHPD applicants indicates about the morale and qualifications of the city’s police officers. Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen, chair of the public safety committee, said in response that while the department has well-qualified upper leadership, its members chose not to apply for personal reasons.
Once the mayor selects a candidate, the decision will not be announced immediately, Smuts said, because that person will have to go through a vetting process including a background check, polygraph test, physical examination, psychological evaluation and interview with a sworn-in Connecticut police officer.
The city is seeking a permanent chief, who will serve a full four-year term and receive an annual salary of between $100,000 and $160,000, Smuts said. He added that one of the new chief’s primary objectives will be to cultivate promising officers so that an internal candidate can assume the role when he or she steps down.
Toward the end of the meeting, the committee authorized the NHFD’s application for two federal grants: a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will help staff fire and emergency response programs and a $1.1 million grant that will finance the city’s purchase of a large, emergency response, maritime vessel.
New Haven Fire Chief Michael Grant said between five and 10 firefighters will staff the $900,000 ship during emergency situations and that the vessel will “greatly reduce [the Fire Department’s] response time.” The vessel will also reduce the city’s costs because it will no longer have to pay neighboring cities to assist it during maritime emergencies.
The vessel weighs more than 40,000 tons and pumps 7,000 gallons of water per minute, and its annual fuel and maintenance costs will be $12,000.